Today is Heruka Day, which takes place during Heruka and Vajrayogini month (otherwise known as January), and is a special day when his blessings are particularly powerful. Most of all, on this day we can recall his kindness and make an effort to bring him to life in our world.
Who is Heruka?
Heruka is the manifestation of the compassion of all the Buddhas. Out of his Truth Body, he emanates himself as a complete path from the deepest hell to the highest enlightenment. He is Keajra Pure Land, which is not some distant place but rather a different way of looking at our world. He emanates in this world as Spiritual Guides who in turn introduce us to Keajra Pure Land. We then begin to connect with it, and as we do, we are guided progressively to purer and purer states of mind. Geshe-la once said the mind of Lamrim is Akanishta Pure Land – a revealing way of phrasing things, a mind as a place. Heruka is the principal deity of Akanishta Pure Land. Our Spiritual Guides first guide us into Lamrim (Akanishta), then conventional Keajra Pure Land through generation stage, then definitive Keajra Pure Land through completion stage. Finally, we attain union with definitive Heruka, the omniscient mind of great bliss realizing directly and simultaneously the emptiness of all things. Heruka is not just this final state, he is the entire path to it. He is the compassion of all the Buddhas manifesting as the quick path to enlightenment.
My favorite description of Heruka is Chakrasambara. As Geshe-la explains in Essence of Vajrayana:
“Another term for Heruka is ‘Chakrasambara.’ ‘Chakra’ means ‘wheel,’ and in this context refers to the ‘wheel’ of all phenomena. ‘Sambara’ means the supreme bliss, which is called ‘spontaneous great bliss.’ Together ‘Chakra’ and ‘sambara’ reveal that by practicing Heruka Tantra we gain a profound realization that experiences all phenomena as one nature with our mind of great bliss. This realization directly removes subtle dualistic appearances from our mind, and due to this we quickly become definitive Heruka.”
This realization is called “meaning clear light,” and Geshe-la explains in Guide to Dakini Land that if we gain this realization, we can attain enlightenment within six months. This does not mean we can attain enlightenment in six months from the time we start practicing Heruka. It will take a long time to gain the realization of meaning clear light, but once we do, we can attain enlightenment in six months. Practicing Heruka is the quickest method for attaining the realization of meaning clear light. At a minimum, through our sincere practice of Heruka in this life, if we can die with a mind of compassion and faith in Heruka, it is definite we can be reborn in his pure land. From there, we will be able to quickly attain meaning clear light and then enlightenment. This is our incredible good fortune.
Recalling the Kindness of Heruka
The very heart of the sadhana Offering to the Spiritual Guide is the Single-Pointed Request, which can be understood as a prayer to Heruka as Keajra Pure Land.
You are the Guru, you are the Yidam, you are the Daka and Dharma Protector;
From now until I attain enlightenment I shall seek no refuge other than you.
In this life, in the bardo, and until the end of my lives, please hold me with the hook of your compassion,
Liberate me from the fears of samsara and peace, bestow all the attainments, be my constant companion, and protect me from all obstacles.
The first line reveals the vastness of Heruka. Heruka is by nature our Guru and our Guru is Heruka. All Tantric practices are fundamentally trainings in guru yoga – a special way of viewing the deity and the guru as inseparably one. Saying Heruka is our Guru and our Guru is Heruka evokes different meanings, and both are true simultaneously. Heruka is also our Yidam or our personal deity. He is the Buddha we seek to become and our ultimate role model. Christians ask, “what would Jesus do,” we ask, “what would Heruka do,” and we seek to do that. Heruka is also the Daka, which here refers to the Heroes and Heroines of his body mandala. These deities are his retinue, but also his spiritual limbs. Heruka is also the Dharma Protector. He manifests Dorje Shugden as the Protector of the Guru’s words. Conventionally, Heruka appears as the totality of his Pure Land, from the HUM at his heart to the principal deity (Yidam); to the body mandala deities (Daka); to his celestial mansion, Mount Meru, and the continents (his gross body); to the charnel grounds (his perception of samsara); to Dorje Shugden’s protection circle surrounding it all transforming whatever appears into a perfect condition for the enlightenment of all beings within Heruka’s pure land.
The second line explains how we rely upon Heruka. It begins with an understanding of both why we go for refuge to him and for how long our commitment to doing so is – namely to attain enlightenment and until we do. Geshe-la explains Heruka’s power is only unleashed within us in dependence upon our motivation of Bodhichitta, the wish to become a Buddha for the benefit of all.
The third line makes our reliance upon Heruka pure. In Joyful Path, Geshe-la explains what makes our spiritual practice pure instead of worldly is whether we are engaging in it for the sake of all of our future lives or the sake of this life. We rely upon Heruka in this life, in the bardo, and in all of our future lives. What do we request of him? That he always hold us with the hook of his compassion. The ocean of samsara is vast and it is easy to get lost at sea and drown, but out of his compassion for us, he throws us a hook we can grab onto. If we never let go, he will pull us to safety. What is this hook and how does it appear in our life? It primarily appears as our Spiritual Guide, but it also manifests as the Daka and the Dharma Protector.
The fourth line reveals Heruka’s main function; or put another way, the principal benefits of relying upon him. His aspect of the Guru functions to liberate us from the fears of samsara and peace. Peace here refers to the solitary peace of individual liberation, which is nice for us but useless for others. We pray to never get trapped in solitary peace but instead strive to become a Buddha who works until the end of time to free others from their suffering. His aspect of the Yidam functions to bestow all the attainments. Bestow is a beautiful word as it implies the giving of something precious. In truth, we attain enlightenment by the Buddhas bestowing the realizations of their mind upon ours, like a gift. Of course, we must do certain things from our side to open up our mind to receive these precious gifts, but by nature, our future realizations of the stages of the path are actually by nature aspects of our Yidam’s mind. His aspect of Daka functions to be our constant companion. In other words, the deities of the body mandala – Heruka’s retinue – are his companions who not only bless our own channels, drops, and winds, but similarly bless all living beings as they fulfill Heruka’s wishes in this world. His aspect of Dharma Protector functions to protect ourselves and all the beings inside Heruka’s mandala from all obstacles to our spiritual practice. Nothing is an obstacle from its own side. Things only become obstacles when we relate to them in a deluded way. Dorje Shugden is first and foremost a wisdom Buddha, meaning he grants us the wisdom to be able to see how whatever arises is perfect for our spiritual training. Since his protection circle envelopes all of Keajra, from the Charnel Grounds to the HUM at Heruka’s heart, he is likewise bestowing similar wisdom blessings on the minds of all living beings. This is why for Heruka samsara appears as the Charnel Grounds. In the Charnel Grounds, even though conventionally horrific things appear, they are all understood and seen as powerful Dharma teachings propelling us towards enlightenment. When we have this wisdom, when others come to us with their difficulties, we fail to even see a problem, we see only spiritual opportunity. We then share our perspective with others, empowering them to transform their life into a joyful path of good fortune.
For myself, I recite the Single-Pointed request with these recognitions day and night as I go about my day. It is my daily mantra, and with every recitation, it draws me closer to Heruka. In my meditation itself, I try to gain experience for what it feels like to be Heruka in Keajra.
Bringing Heruka to Life in our World
We can sometimes feel like Heruka is not in this world and our attainment of union with him is very far off. Both of these perceptions are completely wrong. Heruka is the ultimate nature of everything in this world and attaining union with him is simply one recognition away. How can we bridge the gap between these two very different views? Through the practice of the Eight Lines of Praise of the Father. This is a special method for activating Heruka’s function in this world through us. On the basis of this feeling we simply recognize ourselves as Heruka. Through continual training in this practice, the gap between our normal perception and our enlightened perception collapses until eventually, we experience ourselves directly as Heruka in this world performing his enlightened deeds for the benefit of all. As Geshe-la says in Essence of Vajrayana, “By sincerely reciting these praises we swiftly purify our ordinary appearances and reach Heruka’s Pure Land.”
The Eight Lines of Praise are almost like words of a magical spell, which function to invoke or activate the different functions of Heruka we are praising.
OM I Prostrate to the Blessed One, Lord of the Heroes HUM HUM PHAT
When we recite this line, we request Heruka’s body to become active in this world. His body is the form aspect of Keajra Pure Land. In Keajra, every form that appears is understood as a powerful Dharma teaching by all those who behold it. Heruka manifests as whatever living beings need to be led to enlightenment. While Keajra Pure Land is shaped like a mountain, it’s spiritual gradient is more like a funnel. No matter where you drop something in a funnel, it is eventually guided down into the center of the funnel. In the same way, no matter where you find yourself in Keajra Pure Land – from the Charnel Grounds to the principal deity’s body – you are inexorably drawn towards the indestructible wind inside Heruka’s heart chakra. By activating Heruka’s form body in our world, we are “inviting all beings to be our guests” in our Pure Land where we engage in the pleasing supreme practices of enlightenment. We then strongly believe that whatever forms appear to the minds of any living being, they are by nature emanations of Heruka’s form body, revealing the truth of Dharma and guiding all beings towards his heart.
In particular, when we recite this line, we can imagine that our body is Heruka’s majestic body. Our eyes may continue to perceive the body that we normally see, but our mind’s eyes of faith see ourselves as Heruka. In Essence of Vajrayana, it explains the symbolism of Heruka’s body. The short version is it reveals all of the essential stages of the path to enlightenment. Buddhas can manifest their inner realizations as forms. The main point is we should disregard, even forget, our body that we normally see and believe that through our recitation of this line of the prayer we perceive our body to be Heruka’s body.
OM To you with a brilliance equal to the fire of the great aeon HUM HUM PHAT
When we recite this line, we invoke/activate Heruka’s speech. In Keajra, every sound is arising from Heruka’s enlightened speech and it functions to reveal the truth of Dharma. When we recite this, we imagine that every sound, even the rustling of leaves in the wind, is actually vajra songs teaching Dharma. His speech burns away the ordinary conceptions and ignorance of living beings like a great wisdom fire that radiates out and burns away all delusions. In particular, we should imagine that from this point forward all of our own speech is actually Heruka’s speech being spoken through us. Instead of saying whatever comes to our mind, we get out of the way and let him speak through us. If we are practicing this at the level of completion stage, we can recall that the nature of sound is wind, and so all sounds are actually the whistling of Heruka’s pure winds blowing through the world.
OM To you with an inexhaustible topknot HUM HUM PHAT
With this line we imagine we invoke/activate Heruka’s mind in our world, symbolized by his topknot. There are two aspects of his mind in particular worth noting. First, his mind sees all past, present, and future phenomena directly and simultaneously. He sees everything that has been, everything that is, and everything that will be as one inseparable ocean. This wisdom knowing the three times is extremely effective for being able to help people because we can see the karmic why they are currently facing the situations they are facing and all of the different possible futures they will experience depending upon how they respond to their present circumstance. Heruka sees everything as currents and continuums, like spiritual winds blowing through time, not static pictures that seem arbitrary and bewildering. Second, his mind has the power to bestow the realizations of Chakrasambara on others, in other words, his mind functions to gather and dissolve all phenomena into the ocean of bliss and emptiness. When impure winds cease to flow, the waves of appearance subside, and the ocean of our mind settles into a blissful clarity. Heruka’s mind naturally draws all phenomena back into this original source of all purity. When we recite this line, we feel as if these two powers of his mind are now active. We start to see the three times as Heruka does and we feel all phenomena settling down into the ocean of our mind of clear light emptiness.
OM To you with a fearsome face and bared fangs HUM HUM PHAT
When we recite this line, we imagine we gain Heruka’s great wisdom knowing clearly and unmistakenly what are the objects to be abandoned and what are the objects to be attained, not only for ourselves, but for all living beings. Not being clear about this is our fundamental problem and the source of all of our suffering. In Modern Buddhism, Geshe-la makes a clear distinction between our outer problem and our inner problem. If our car breaks down, normally we think, “I have a problem.” No, our car has a problem. Our problem is our inner problem of relating to this appearance in a deluded way. We need a mechanic to fix our car, and we need to change our mind to solve our inner problem. Fixing our outer problem will not solve our inner problem. If we continue to have our inner problem, we will just project it onto some other external circumstance and think now that needs to be fixed too. Worldly beings are convinced their problem is what is happening externally, and they expend all of their energy trying to solve all of their outer problems, but no matter how many times they do, they continue to have the same sorts of problems just with different faces or different sets of external appearance. The reason for this is they have not solved their inner problem. Heruka’s great wisdom enables us to see clearly that our own and others’ actual problem lies within. Once we are clear that our problem is our inner problem, then his great wisdom helps us see clearly our delusions as mistaken minds. It is one thing to identify that we have delusions, but if we do not see why they are wrong or deceptive, we will continue to follow them believing them to be true. His great wisdom also helps us easily know what is the correct way of looking at things that leaves our mind peaceful and calm. We not only know the wisdom way of thinking, we actually think that way – or at least believe it to be correct, even if the winds of our mind are blowing in opposite directions.
When we recite this line, we have this wisdom not only for ourselves but also for others. When others talk to us, we see clearly the difference between their outer and their inner problem, and with respect to their inner problem, we know and can explain in a way they can understand the objects to be abandoned and the objects to be attained. Traveling outer paths is accomplished through taking steps, inner paths are traveled through knowing what thoughts to believe. The great wisdom of knowing the objects to be abandoned and the objects to be attained is like always knowing which paths to travel so that we never get lost. It is like an inner GPS that is always set for the City of Enlightenment, and no matter where we find ourselves, we always know how to get to where we want to go.
OM To you whose thousand arms blaze with light HUM HUM PHAT
When we recite this line we imagine we invoke/activate countless emanations of Heruka who spontaneously burst forth from his heart of compassion to benefit living beings through acts of loving-kindness. This line refers to how Heruka is the compassion of all the Buddhas, he is the highest yoga tantra version of thousand-arm Avalokiteshvara. Some people wonder how Buddhas gain the ability to send out emanations. The answer is their compassion wishing to protect all living beings from all suffering is so great, emanations naturally burst out of their hearts. Because they realize emptiness of all phenomena, their compassion is like blowing air into the soap of their realization of emptiness producing countless bubbles of emanations. Normally, when people come to us for help, we think, “I can’t help all of these people,” and we wish some of them would go away and stop putting so many demands on us. But a bodhisattva thinks, “I would want to help all of these beings, but right now, unfortunately, I can’t. That’s why I need to become a Buddha because then I will be able to be with each and every living being every day.” We imagine that through reciting this line, we gain this ability to send out countless emanations and to be like thousand-arm Avalokiteshvara, able to help living beings in countless ways.
OM To you who hold an axe, an uplifted noose, a spear, and a khatanga HUM HUM PHAT
With this line, we imagine we gain Heruka’s ability to engage in wrathful actions, and we invoke his wrathful actions pervade the entire universe. What are wrathful actions? They are the ability to use force out of compassion. They are of two types: outer and inner. Outer wrathful actions are when somebody is hurting themselves or others and we can stop them through using whatever power we have (physical, our position, our speech, etc.). We do this not out of anger, but to protect the person they are harming and to protect the person committing the harm from accumulating negative karma. Our wish is not to harm the other person, but to protect them. Sometimes outer wrathful actions take the form of telling people the hard truths of their situation, such as they are acting like a jerk or the only reason why they are suffering is that they are jealous or attached to companionship, or whatever. Whether our outer wrathful actions are effective depends upon whether our mind is truly free from anger and whether the other person has enough faith in us to take well what we are saying. If either of these two conditions is not met, our wrathful actions will just be anger or they will just be self-defeating. Inner wrathful actions are the ability to be utterly ruthless with our delusions, but kind to ourselves. We can only successfully engage in them if we have truly differentiated between ourselves and our delusions and we have realized that renunciation is true self-love or self-compassion. It is loving or having compassion for our true selves, our pure potential. Inner wrathful actions of a Buddha are powerful blessings that help people see clearly the error of their ways, sometimes at an epic scale, but without inducing guilt causing the person to beat themselves up. When we recite this line, we imagine we gain the ability to engage in such wrathful actions and we imagine we invoke Heruka to engage in such wrathful actions through the appearances of this world.
OM To you who wear a tiger-skin garment HUM HUM PHAT
This refers to Heruka’s ability to pacify anger and conflict. There is no evil greater than anger. Almost all of the harm in this world is caused by anger. Hell realms are the nature of anger, and those who remain consumed by anger in life wind up taking rebirth in hell after death because that is the nature of their mind. Anger prevents us from accepting samsara as it is, making us wish it was different. It leads to frustrations, great and small, leaving us always internally uncomfortable, agitated, and unhappy. Guilt is anger directed at ourself and is a major obstacle to our ability to view Dharma as refuge instead of a mirror we perceive to be judging us for all of our failures and shortcomings. Conflict in the world ranges from large-scale wars to spats between siblings, but it leaves a wake of pain wherever it goes. In Eight Steps to Happiness, Geshe-la says the mind of cherishing others is like a magic crystal that has the power to heal whole communities. In Toronto, he said, “love is the real nuclear bomb that destroys all enemies.” Heruka’s compassion is his magic crystal and his love is his nuclear bomb that ends all conflict. We imagine by reciting this line, we activate this power and it functions to pacify all anger, all guilt, and all conflict, not only in our own lives but in the whole world. We feel as if his love radiates out, pulsing peace into the world. In Transform Your Life Geshe-la says, “without inner peace, outer peace is impossible.” We imagine through Heruka’s blessings, we bestow inner peace on all living beings, resulting in universal peace for all.
OM I bow to you whose smoke-coloured body dispels obstructions HUM HUM PHAT
In Essence of Vajrayana, Geshe-la explains:
“In the Condensed Root Tantra it is said that just by seeing a sincere Heruka practitioner we purify our negativities and attain liberation; just by hearing or being touched by such a practitioner we receive blessings and are cured of sickness; and just by being in the presence of such a practitioner our unhappiness, mental disturbances, delusions and other obstacles are dispelled. Why is this? It is because the actual Deities of Heruka abide within the body of the practitioner and therefore seeing the practitioner is not so different from seeing Heruka himself.”
When we recite this line of the Praise we recall this special quality of Heruka which makes merely being in their presence a cause of liberation for others. There are two types of obstructions – the obstructions to liberation, or our delusions; and the obstructions to omniscience, or the karmic imprints of our past delusions. Merely being in Heruka’s presence dispels both of these, just as being exposed to the sun will melt ice cream. When we recite this line with faith, we imagine that our Heruka body attains these qualities and when others are merely in our presence, it functions as a cause of their enlightenment – even if we are doing nothing other than watching football together. We further imagine that Heruka’s body pervades all phenomena, and while our ordinary eyes may perceive the things we normally see, our wisdom eyes see Keajra Pure Land, which is nothing other than Heruka’s pure form body. By being in this world, the two obstructions of all living beings are dispelled away, all ordinary appearances and conceptions dissolve, and all beings awaken into a world of pure wonder.
Through continuously engaging in the Eight Lines of Praise, we will gradually purify our mind and samsara will gather and absorb into the clear light, like clouds into a clear blue sky. We will feel Heruka as Keajra Pure Land become increasingly manifest and we will realize it is not far away, but actually the true nature of all things. Having activated these eight abilities of Heruka and feeling them work through us, we will have no difficulty generating a qualified divine pride thinking we are Heruka. As our experience with these verses deepens, the duality between ourselves and our Yidam will dissolve away until we experience union with this marvelous being. In this way, we will fulfill all of our own and others’ pure wishes.
Heruka day is a particularly auspicious day when Heruka’s blessings are especially powerful. The karma we create familiarizing ourselves with Heruka in our life and drawing closer to him on this day will pay dividends for aeons to come. If we have not yet memorized the Eight Lines of Praise, today is a perfect day to do so. Once we have learned it, we can then practice it day and night and swiftly move out of samsara and into Keajra Pure Land!